Is inequality a problem to be solved?
In the world there is inequality between nations and within nations, between states, between different age cohorts, between individuals in a classroom, individuals within a family. This can be in biological differences in phenotypes, how far one lies on the spectrum of personality traits, the background one comes from in terms of wealth, or persons innate or cultivated athletic or creative abilities. If there were no inequality, we wouldn’t have bar and pie charts, at least not very interesting ones to look at. We wouldn’t have sports competitions to crazy over, or dance competitions and so on to enjoy. There would be no bell curves. In fact, I’m not sure that the world would be a very interesting place to live in if there were no variation. All trees would look the same. All the earth around the world would be the same color. Fundamentally, I can’t even imagine a universe coming into being without different degrees of different things arranging themselves in different ways. I bring this up because people seem to be content with this realization of inequality in general, but not when it comes to human beings. This is either denied in sensitive topics, or denied in the logical conclusion that this would result in different outcomes based on what trait is needed to succeed in a certain field. Or we are okay with it theoretically but not how it plays out in real life. This philosophical contradiction is important because this is the hierarchy that we are involved in but not objective about. So people conclude that it is only a result of greedy human nature. But even if all things were equal. If there were no corruption, no barriers to overcome in anyone’s life, or all people had the same level of difficulty in upbringing – there would still be inequality. Because that is life and nature and nature is absolutely full of competition. But we don’t like what this results in.
What do we mean when we say ‘inequality’?
We are most focused on inequality of income and wealth. This is what we really seem to care about. When I type in inequality into the google search bar, this understanding of inequality pops up the most in search results other than strict definitions. I found inequality.org that is working to “help end economic inequality in the United States and abroad.” It is often placed in the context of a challenge or something to battle, the evil dragon in human nature and society that needs to be slain.
The first thing I would take from this, is that we don’t like living in society’s where there is great inequality. That is why so many people want to end it. Charities wouldn’t exist if not. And I’ve heard the accusation of: “So you want poor people to starve?” repeated often, or something along those lines. I think it wouldn’t be said except to wound the ego or sense of compassion of those who do care. I would additionally assume that there are individuals who are not comfortable with inequality in all income brackets. This could be out of a sense of altruism and compassion, or a fear of social unrest when there is inequality, or the belief that everyone has the same level of contribution to society just on the basis of on an innate sense of self-worth, so they all deserve the same things. I will not argue against that but I will argue against the position that this means that individuals who are better off owe it to others to make sure they end up at the same place in life, and especially argue against a conclusion that it is okay to force others to do this. I would make a distinction between those who cannot take care of themselves and those who can. But people require resources to exist. We feed on things. We are expensive. And those who make a lot, I personally think can help others. But I still don’t think others should be forced to subsidize the existence of other persons. I am going to have to make the statement many times that I am a big fan of charity. I was involved in charity throughout high school in Jamaica in a big way. I have had others help me before when I needed it. This is not a polemic on the less fortunate or those in need of help. I simply think people are unwilling to face the reality of how fundamental inequality is to existence. I see nothing wrong with trying to change it to make it better for others if that is what one would like to see, but I think equality may not be possible. And, I disagree with certain methods of trying to get there.
How can we measure good or bad inequality?
Seeing as we are all born with varying levels of talents and traits, and we cannot control our initial circumstances, one could say that certain persons or groups are not deserving of their income and wealth. But, how is it possible for us to tease apart who is lucky and who works hard, who was simply predisposed to a certain gift or skill due to genes or environment, or who made certain decisions that led them down a path that others didn’t? Can we say that no matter what our varying traits, levels of productivity, or talents, we are each unique and contributing equally to the whole? I think we can’t. Every part is important but individuals are rewarded based on how much value they are providing to others. I am not saying that human life isn’t of value in and of itself, but when it comes to the interacting with others, especially those we don’t consider kin or a part of our in-group, this is what persons do, in general. This stands for both those who are well off and those who are not. How can someone decide how much is the limit to the amount of wealth someone else can earn? From an economic standpoint, in a free market society, people are rewarded based on how productive they are, or their income directly correlates to how much they are producing or how much value they are providing to others. So I don’t think we can talk about deserving and the rearranging of funds, particularly those handed over voluntarily.
Can we reduce inequality?
If we can establish that inequality is inevitable, but most people are uncomfortable with inequality, and it could possibly be reduced, the next question is how can it be mitigated? I think we can get involved in charity, direct or indirect. But I think the best way is to encourage the development of skills or abilities that will result in individuals not needing the help of others. In desperate situations immediate help may be necessary, but long-term solutions are the best bet. And long-term solutions go to the root of the problem, repairing the leak in the boat rather than continually bailing water out. Plus, part of me thinks that struggle is important in a person figuring out how to utilize their own resources. It’s a learning moment allowing them to solve the problems themselves. I also think support is given on an individual level which has network effects out to the group level, in families first and then communities. The remote viewing of problems on a societal level is trying to make sense of things that are very complex, and sometimes enabling situations rather than helping end them by leaving people alone to become independent human beings. It could be that I just don’t understand. But I think I do understand, though I don’t think I know the best way to solve a nations problems.
My stance on the topic of inequality is that, if the ends can even be reached which is questionable, the ends don’t justify the means. I don’t think it’s right to force someone to give away their wealth. I think you can try to persuade them. I think if you want to have a society that gets along with each other, it is important to cultivate a sense of unity and care for others. This sense of unity does not have to show up only in the face of a common threat. But aren’t you doing the opposite if you are forcing this on others rather than have them do it themselves? It robs people of the chance to actively participate in their own morality to a large degree because of the removal of choice. (This doesn’t stop persons from doing more). One might argue that this leaves others with less means or talents to the mercy of others, to find jobs, for example. But I don’t think that one should have control over another person’s life and path and what they choose to do, even the virtue of helping others, just because something makes us feel really uncomfortable. This respect for others is more important to me than forcing others to be what your ideal version of good looks like.
Part 2 of this series on inequality, the wealth gap, and discrimination is here: Inequality Series Part 2
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